Originally created 02/22/01

Enactors prepare for battle



WINDSOR - It's all going South on Aiken County's east side this weekend, when Johnny Reb blows away the Blue Bellies.

But historian Pete Peters won't be fighting during a rare win for the Confederate army. He'll watch from the sidelines as Rebels and Yankees bring a battle from long ago to life again.

For a year, he and other Sons of Confederate Veterans from the Barnard E. Bee Camp have prepared for a re-enactment of the Civil War's Battle of Aiken. By Saturday, they must ready 800 men, haul 150 bales of hay and splinter 65 truckloads of wood.

More than 130 years have passed since Union Gen. William T. Sherman marched to the sea. He left a swath 60 miles wide - scorched towns, scorched farms and scorched memories in Georgia and the Carolinas.

South Carolina, first to secede, was promised "one of the most horrible things in the history of the world."

"The devil himself couldn't restrain my men in that state," Sherman said.

The city of Aiken was spared, as was Augusta, the South's main supplier of gunpowder.

At least 10,000 people are expected to see the portrayal of the battle fought 136 years ago. Nearly 800 faux soldiers will camp at Carolina Star and Hunt Club in Windsor, eat hardtack fried in pig fat, skip baths for authenticity and gather around campfires to cook and sing period songs.

"This is like time travel for them," Mr. Peters said.

For some, it is a chance to defend the Confederate flag in a state in which lawmakers, under pressure from an economic boycott, took it off the Capitol.

It takes about 500 pounds of black powder and more than 100 horses to portray cavalry charges. Re-enactors include many who played soldiers in movies.

Battle profits have bought headstones for Southern veterans, including Pvts. Jesse Morris and Lewis Deadman of Tennessee. They died in the real Battle of Aiken and are buried at St. Thaddeus Episcopal Church amid a small army of Confederates.

For at least 100 years, the two were known only as members of Gen. Joseph Wheeler's cavalry "who gave their lives in defense of this town." But today they have stones and names found in church records. In six years, members of Bee Camp have marked graves of nearly 300 Confederate veterans who once were unknown.

The markers make a pointed statement. Confederate markers have a sharp angle on top so that "no damn Yankee can sit on them," legend says.

At least 48 other Gray Coats are buried at St. Thaddeus, but only Morris and Deadman are known to have died in the Battle of Aiken.

Reach Chasiti Kirkland at (803) 279-6895.